While the enrollment period for most 2016 health plans ended back in January, scammers in the health insurance fraud business are still hard at work. As Consumer Reports puts it, "phishing season has just begun."
Phishing scams are nothing new, but that doesn't mean they aren't just as dangerous as ever.
Phishing is a way for criminals to carry out identity theft by using fake websites, emails and robocalls to try and steal your personal information -- including passwords, banking info, Social Security number and other sensitive data. The way it works with email is the scammers send you an email that appears to be from a company you do business with (or some other legitimate company), requesting more information on your account or claiming there was a problem with a recent purchase, transaction etc. But in reality, the email is just a cleverly disguised scam, designed to get information from you that will ultimately empty your wallet.
The email may look completely valid -- displaying all the appropriate logos and website links. It may even have a toll-free number to call with "customer service" people answering the phones with the company name, but it's all a big hoax -- set up to steal from people.
Read more: 4 phone scams to watch out for
When you click on a link in one of these phishing emails, it could open your computer up to malware, which may contain a virus or other software that sends all your information back to the criminals. The link could also send you to a fraudulent website -- which may look exactly like the real thing -- in order to trick you into entering your account or other personal information.
These types of scams are also often carried out over the phone and via text message -- in an attempt to get as much personal information from you as possible, so the thieves can use it to steal your identity.
The Health Insurance Marketplace scam
According to a new report from Consumer Reports, the Health Insurance Marketplace scam is a new robocall scam.
Here's how it works: you get a robocall claiming to be from a local branch of the Health Insurance Marketplace, which is the organization that oversees HealthCare.gov. The recorded message says, “You need to buy health insurance or face a fine. To learn more, press 1.” Then if you press 1, a person comes on the phone -- claiming to "work with the law" -- and asks you for your personal information, including your name, date of birth, phone number, income and Social Security number.
Even if you only provide your basic information, you could still be putting yourself at risk. These scammers are looking to get any information from you that they can, and then oftentimes, they can find the rest (or a lot of the rest) somewhere online. The more information these criminals get their hands on, the more you are at risk of becoming a victim of identity theft.
What will the thieves do with the info? Anything they can -- access and empty your bank accounts, open credit cards in your name, steal your tax refund, take out a loan in your name and even empty your retirement accounts.
How to spot the scam
According to CR, here are some ways to know if you are being targeted by this scam:
- You receive a phone call about your health insurance from someone who says “I’m from the government.” No, they are not. The government will not call you about your health insurance. If you get a phone call and aren't sure if it's legit, you can contact the Health Insurance Marketplace call center at 1-800-318-2596.
- You receive a robocall about your health insurance. Robocalls are illegal, unless you gave the caller written permission to call you (on paper or electronically). See more details on robocalling and your rights on the FCC website.
- You get a phone call with a recording asking you to press 1. Don't do it! It just tells the scammers that you're a real person and they will continue to call you.
- You get a phone call and the operator asks you for your personal information. Hang up. If you want to find out if the call was legit, contact the Health Insurance Marketplace directly. You can get more information about health insurance fraud on the organization's website.
How to avoid similar scams
Here are a few more tips on how to avoid similar scams being carried out via email, text message or phone:
- If you receive an email claiming to be from your bank or other company that has your personal information, don't click on any of the links. It could be a scam. Instead, log in to your account separately to check for any new notices. You can also call the company about the information sent via email.
- Responding to a text from a number you don't recognize could also make any information stored in your phone vulnerable to hackers. Do some research to find out who and where the text came from.
- If you get a missed call on your cell phone from a number you don't recognize, don't call it back. Here's what you need to know about this phone scam.
See all the latest scams & ripoffs here.